Six US states that refuse to recognize the cold, hard truth of modernity
There is a delicious nugget of truth that seems, as of yet, to be fairly unknown. The reality of things is that many who hold office in the establishment hold no sincere religious belief. Theocrats on the right tend to gloss over this fact. It is also likely that this has been true for some time. Despite this, only in the last few decades has it become acceptable to declare lack of belief.
Six U.S. state constitutions harbor measures that the Supreme Court would rule unconstitutional on the basis of precedent. These measures target individuals who, for whatever reason, do not affirm the existence of a “Supreme being,” “Almighty God,” etc. They are essentially meaningless, but they are extremely useful as illustrative cultural examples.
Historically, discrimination against atheists and agnostics (at least against those who were openly so) has been portrayed as beneficial to society, seeing as these “radical” belief systems, from the perspective of the theist, lead to the direct moral and behavioral degeneration of society so as to induce decadence and incapacity for efficient thought.
Since things have changed a little bit over the last century, this belief is less ubiquitous yet still pervasive. Progressives must seek to affirm the place of all belief systems within the discourse.
In essence this means that those interested in real change must not shun ideas. This is also intimately related to individual freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
I. The Laws
1) Article 1 Section 37 of the Maryland state constitution: “That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this state, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God.”
2) Article 1 Section 18 of the Mississippi state constitution (all kinds of interesting here): “No religious test as a qualification for office shall be required; and no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect or mode of worship; but the free enjoyment of all religious sentiments and the different modes of worship shall be held sacred. The rights hereby secured shall not be construed to justify acts of licentiousness injurious to morals or dangerous to the peace and safety of the state, or to exclude the Holy Bible from use in any public school of this state.”
3) Article 1 Section 4 of the Texas state constitution (Supreme Being): “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualiﬁcation to any oﬃce, or public trust, in this State; nor shall anyone be excluded from holding oﬃce on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”
4) Article 1 Section 4 of the Pennsylvania state constitution (“disqualified”): “No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.”
5) Article 17 Section 4 of the South Carolina state constitution: “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.”
6) Article 6 Section 8 of the North Carolina state constitution: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God […]”
II. The Dirty Little Secret
To a great extent, those in power are subject, in their decision making, to the forces of change that work through their professional environments. In other words, they must be willing to adapt to environmental demands.
We must understand the establishment Christians of today in terms of genealogy. When seen through the lens of several generations, the Christians of today are often significantly different than their parents.
Over time, it has become increasingly difficult for hard-line ideologues to effectively manage the changing capitalist system. This is a system that works across all social boundaries.
Put simply, one can make all manner of pious promises before taking office. The reality of one’s decision-making process afterward may be several orders of magnitude more complex.
It is likely that a large portion of powerful Christians (Republicans and Democrats) harbor no belief in deity. It is also equally likely that there are just as many agnostics or “unsures” in this group. The individual affirmation of belief has served as a stepping stone toward legitimacy under the scrutiny of the public eye.
This phenomenon is quite evident in the current plight of the American Republican Party. Republicans, like Mitt Romney, who is, in the greater scope of things, a right-leaning, fiscally-minded political moderate (almost in the same way that Barack Obama is basically a left-leaning political moderate).
Republicans like him are continually at the mercy of their rural, ultra-conservative, and overwhelmingly Christian electorate. In practice, this translates into a long series of fervent campaign promises. Most turn out to be either impossible to carry out or complete embarrassments when debate time comes.
The establishment will exist as a structure, independently of the religious or secular orientations of its officers. To that end, it is prudent to recognize the changing social landscape of today. ‘
At the personal level, atheism and agnosticism have both existed for thousands of years. Only since the rise of capitalism did the expression of this belief increasingly become accepted within the public discourse.
It is important to consider the former Soviet Union, which was officially atheist, as an example. There, it could be argued, the group systematically shunned theism. In this case, theism was far less socially acceptable than in capitalist countries. In the case of Russia proper, it became borderline unacceptable in practice to express oneself as, for example, an Orthodox Christian.
It is also important to note that by no means did the Soviets stamp out the Orthodox Church. The new system assumed the socio-political power that the church previously held.
The truth of the matter is, however, that many Soviets never gave up their religious traditions. Today, Russia is an intensely socially conservative country. Many of these values came out of the culture of the Russian Empire. This culture is inextricably intertwined with the Orthodox Church.
This case provides a near mirror image of the current atheist position in a Judaeo-Christian dominated system. The atheist position goes un-heard in this case. A common reaction from American conservatives follows, “I don’t think I could sleep at night knowing there was an atheist doing the same in the White House.”
Progressives must strive to affirm freedom of individual belief. Included in this category are all belief systems. The simple truth of the matter is that those on the far right wing likely fear the displacement of their ideology. As more secular-minded officials take their place, bi partisanship on many issues may be recognizable.
Associated Court Cases: